Core Principles: Injecting Story into the Pathfinder ACG

Thursday, September 6, 2018

In the first installment of this blog series, I laid out the principles guiding our new incarnation of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. We aren't rebooting the game—everything will still work with everything else—but with the new Core Set, we're making significant improvements that we've been wanting to make for years. I will go through them one by one in the leadup to the game's intended launch at PaizoCon 2019.

The improvement I'm describing today is adding more story. To get what I mean by that, you have to understand what we're surrounded by. When you walk into the Paizo conference room, you are surrounded by many bookshelves of everything Paizo has created. There are hundreds of adventures, novels, rulebooks, setting books, and card decks set in the world of Golarion and beyond.

For each PACG set, we would choose an RPG Adventure Path to adapt—each consisting of six 96-page volumes, not counting any supplemental books—and wedge that story onto 1 Adventure Path card, 7 adventure cards, and about 35 scenario cards, each of which would have at most 70 words on it. That meant we had to condense 576 pages of roleplaying game text into about 3,000 words spread across 43 poker-sized cards.

To say we fell short of the full grandeur of the Pathfinder world would be underselling it. You had to interpret so much from the cards that our community members wrote their own story guides to help explain the stories we were telling to others.

Meanwhile, over on aisle Adventure Card Guild, we were doing something very different indeed. Our story authors were cranking out brand new epics. We would plot out major adventure arcs and then we would write. Each page—one scenario, say—would have an entire story, with a setup, gameplay, and development, and the text for one page would often have more story text than an entire adventure worth of cards in the main box. This is much harder work, but it helped make our Adventure Card Guild games even more fun than our base set games.

For example, here's a scenario from Season of the Righteous Adventure 4: The Mighty and the Righteous. The characters are in the Abyss, having just barely escaped the dark clutches of the demon-angel Shamira.


We probably had a reason to name these scenarios after lyrics from The Rocky Horror Picture Show's "The Time Warp," but it's lost to the ages.

You can see how much fun I had writing this. Thinking back on it, there was no reason we couldn't have that much fun writing the box sets as well. Organized play had the right idea.

So, we stole it.

For the Core Set and Curse of the Crimson Throne, I'm diving much deeper into the stories of the adventures we're adapting. Core had us searching for the perfect story to tell an introductory adventure: if this was your first encounter with PACG, we wanted it to be a memorable one.

Enter The Dragon's Demand, a brilliant bit of creativity by Aching God author Mike Shel. This is NOT Wrath of the Righteous. You don't exactly become mythic demigods in this one. Instead, you get stuck in a Podunk town and have to figure out whether the townsfolk are being harassed by a long-dead dragon. If you win, you save the town. If you lose, well, that's just how Golarion goes sometimes. It's a great adventure where everybody in it takes themselves very seriously and yet you just have the sense that no one really thought their plans through too well.

The first step on this road was to set fire to the Adventure Path, adventure, and scenario cards. You heard me, they're gone. Poof. Instead, I'd write a storybook (a term I stole from Apocrypha) which had all the adventure content and a lot more story.

I cracked open a Word document and started figuring out what I needed to do to tell that story. One consideration was this: We wanted to make our Adventure Path boxes like Curse physically a lot smaller than before. I once walked into my favorite restaurant/board game store, Mox Boarding House, and saw an employee sorting Netrunner cards under a hanging rack of all my Pathfinder box sets. I gently asked him "Do those ever fall on you?" and he said "Oh, all the time," and I thought "Man, I am not going to jail for THAT."

So we wanted to cut it down a bit. The Core Set will come in a 9"×12" box—that's just a little larger than the Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box—that holds your cards, dice, pawns (more on that later), and rulebooks. And Curse will be even smaller than that: 7.5"×9"—just a bit bigger than the Pathfinder RPG Pocket Edition. And all of Curse will be in that box—no more individual adventure boxes, and no more five-month delays between the first part and the last. You'll buy it all at once and you can blast through it as fast as you like. You want it, you got it.

To play with it, you'll shuffle the cards from your Curse set into your Core Set. This is a trick we pulled on Apocrypha, and it really works. Since you can easily tell the cards from the sets apart, you can quickly pull out the ones you don't need and shuffle in the ones you do need. It takes only a few minutes to change the whole play experience.

But Vic noted that the 7.5"×9" Adventure Path box meant we couldn't just use the Adventure Card Guild's 8.5"×11" page format, at least not without some TARDIS-like technology making it bigger on the inside. I proposed we turn the page sideways and fold it in half, making each scenario a two-page spread in a 5.5"×8.5" storybook (that's another term we stole from Apocrypha). That gave me a fair amount of room to play with. But I had a lot to wedge in there. After some brainstorming with art director Sarah Robinson and graphic designer Sonja Morris, we found a layout I could work with. Here's what it looks like right now. (It will have additional attention from the art team before it's done.)


Here's a scenario spread from The Dragon's Demand.

Okay, try not to go down the rabbit-hole on all those new terms like "hourglass," "small location," "heal," "story bane," "closing henchmen," "Proxy A," and "danger." I'll get to those soon, I promise. For now, let's just talk big picture.

This scenario shows how we put real story into a two-page spread. We get an evocative introduction that draws you into the scenario. Then there's a section on setup and another one on what you do during play, plus a location list. We have a nice space for art, then the conclusion to the story and its rewards. It's a nice-looking layout, even before Sarah and Sonja get to prettying it up.

That's a lot better than anything that would fit on a card, I think. Let us know what you think of this!

Mike Selinker
Lead Designer, Adventure Card Game

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Horray, more story! I'm hoping each scenario will have more nuance and an effect on future scenarios. This has been one of the two biggest issues that has deterred my group from playing this game.


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This is awesome on so many levels I can't begin to even describe. I am so much in support of this you have no idea, thank you!


Now THIS is an upgrade! The story book format would be so much better than the cards. Literally opening up more "design space"!

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

It seems like you folks are fixing two of my biggest gripes with the otherwise rather excellent PFACG: the publishing model and light amount of lore/story. Great news!


Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Card Game, Class Deck Subscriber

Just plain megacool!


Pathfinder Card Game, Class Deck Subscriber

I'll echo the sentiments voiced by others - these are very interesting changes and I'm anxious to see and play the new incarnation of the game.

Quote:
Okay, try not to go down the rabbit-hole on all those new terms like "hourglass," "small location," "heal," "story bane," "closing henchmen," "Proxy A," and "danger."

You should have put that before the image. I went down so many rabbit holes as I studied the image. ;) Everything makes sense, though ("small location" is the only term that I haven't solidly locked down). I especially like the flexibility of the reward for that particular scenario.

I wonder if we'll see the four existing APs rendered in new incarnation storybook format (just the adventure path, adventure, and scenario cards)...?


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Pathfinder Card Game, Class Deck Subscriber

Wow! I'm pumped to get more story. When I bought my first set, a used copy of ROTR, the guy had thrown in the community created guide that his group used. It's good to see something more story-driven be included right off the bat.


Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

Closing Henchmen. If this does what it seems it does, that will solve so much confusion.


Pathfinder Card Game, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

That's exactly the kind of story I'm hoping to see. Not a bunch of exposition or background info - I figure I can read the AP/module if I want to know such things, and it would make players zone out if they don't care about it. But an exciting cinematic scene, to plunge you into the action and make you care about the outcome, and to give life to the cards you are going to encounter.

I approve. :D


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Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

Best
News
Ever

Well, maybe not ever. But still, this is fan-freaking-tastic. And a booklet is so great. Sounds like it will still be small enough that I might be able to fold it back on itself and just have the page with the scenario power showing and it won't take up too much space.


Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber
Brother Tyler wrote:


Mike Selinker wrote:
Okay, try not to go down the rabbit-hole on all those new terms like "hourglass," "small location," "heal," "story bane," "closing henchmen," "Proxy A," and "danger."
You should have put that before the image. I went down so many rabbit holes as I studied the image. ;) Everything makes sense, though ("small location" is the only term that I haven't solidly locked down). I especially like the flexibility of the reward for that particular scenario.

We have seen that the locations can now be set up with varying numbers of cards in them, so perhaps that instruction is to set up a beginner game with only ~6 cards per location, instead of ~9 or ~12?

Lone Shark Games

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Cyrad wrote:
Horray, more story! I'm hoping each scenario will have more nuance and an effect on future scenarios. This has been one of the two biggest issues that has deterred my group from playing this game.

I think you'll like what we've done with Curse.

Grand Lodge

This sounds great, I love the idea of having more story!

Since this is being released a PaizoCon next year, any chance of some sort of demo tables where people can try it out (something like the delves; just drop in and play for 15-30 minutes...)?


This is definitely way cool. Any chance that you'll do an enhancement book/s as add-on's for the original four PACG's to give them the same kind of treatment? I would think it would be pretty popular and people who start with the new version of the game will be more likely to go back and buy the older products if they had something like that to support it.

Lone Shark Games

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Browolfe wrote:
This is definitely way cool. Any chance that you'll do an enhancement book/s as add-on's for the original four PACG's to give them the same kind of treatment? I would think it would be pretty popular and people who start with the new version of the game will be more likely to go back and buy the older products if they had something like that to support it.

I've mentioned to Vic and company that I would like to do this eventually. Paizo would have to come up with a viable plan for it to actually sell, and I'm not sure that's feasible. Of course, I'd have to find time to write it. But I would very much like to see that happen.


You said "don't go down the rabbit hole..." but I did. I do not like seeing "proxy" over there. I seriously hope you're not doing the organized play scenario "proxy" images for things like henchmen. It seriously hampers the game play, having to reference back and forth like that. Give me cards to shuffle in with what you're encountering on the card itself. "Proxy" was only acceptable in the organized play because the cards created for that scenario were unavailable as actual physical cards.

Integrating "proxy" rules like that into the game will be a VERY bad thing.

That said, I love and appreciate the move to the scenario book. I hope there's room for the "all chapter long" reminder text on each scenario's page, since there's no reminder card for it, and it absolutely will be forgotten if it's not printed with each scenario.


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Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Maps Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber
emky wrote:

You said "don't go down the rabbit hole..." but I did. I do not like seeing "proxy" over there. I seriously hope you're not doing the organized play scenario "proxy" images for things like henchmen. It seriously hampers the game play, having to reference back and forth like that. Give me cards to shuffle in with what you're encountering on the card itself. "Proxy" was only acceptable in the organized play because the cards created for that scenario were unavailable as actual physical cards.

Integrating "proxy" rules like that into the game will be a VERY bad thing.

That said, I love and appreciate the move to the scenario book. I hope there's room for the "all chapter long" reminder text on each scenario's page, since there's no reminder card for it, and it absolutely will be forgotten if it's not printed with each scenario.

I don’t see much of an issue here. In fact, I see a good thing. Proxies greatly reduce the number of card slots devoted to henchmen, which means more space for cards that are actually interesting. It says Proxy A which to me means we’ll have generic proxy cards with letters on them (avoiding OP issue of accidentally encountering the proxy card instead of the card it’s a proxy for), and probably one copy of each henchman. So you see a proxy card and reference the appropriate physical card instead.

If there’s an extra copy of Proxy A, you could put that next to the henchman card for easier reference in play instead of looking at the booklet (more useful if there’s more than one card being proxied; i.e. Proxy A and Proxy B)


I want this... so bad now.


emky wrote:
Integrating "proxy" rules like that into the game will be a VERY bad thing.

Proxies have already been integrated into Apocrypha as a test run. I thought I was going to mind the proxies, but I didn't. They weren't really a big deal.

Proxies are physically easier to handle in Apocrypha vs. organized play Pathfinder. In Apocrypha, one physical copy of each henchman is included to pass around or display. For us, that's less intrusive than the paper proxy sheet in PACG OP. I'm assuming that the same thing will be done in PACG Mark II.

A possible concern is that I don't sleeve my PACG cards. So the generic henchmen cards could theoretically be worn down more quickly. However, PACG cardstock is very good - so I'm not terribly worried. If nothing else, Paizo might include two sets of generic henchmen in case one becomes visibly worn.

Overall, I think it's great that Paizo is being responsive to fan suggestions for an increased focus on story. That said, my group is in the minority on this one. They don't actually want to have a long preamble read aloud before starting - they'd rather jump right in. So I wouldn't mind if a storybook appendix were included that contained much shorter versions of the scenario introductions (e.g., a single brief paragraph). For nuts like us.


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Thinking about the storytelling mode a bit more, it would be cool if Pathfinder took a page from other games and broke the storytelling into triggered "chapters" (for lack of a better word). At least occasionally.

For instance, the players might read a brief paragraph at the start of the scenario, after the first location is permanently closed, the first time a player takes damage, when the party first encounters the villain, etc. That narrative structure would be more likely to hold my attention, as it would be on ongoing tale rather than mostly front-loaded.

Anyway, just a thought. All the scenarios wouldn't be structured this way, but it would be neat to have a few.


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I am so looking forward to this! :-)


I must have failed a Will save, because I am enthralled.


I know it's a bit late, but I'm quite sad to hear that the boxes will be different sizes. I would think a great homage to its namesake would be to make the boxes look just like the books they represent. Same size, you could even have a box side look like a book spine (for vertical storage in a book rack)

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